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Antivirus firm warns of cyberattacks on home appliances

A photo taken on May 15, 2017 shows staff monitoring the spread of ransomware cyber-attacks at the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) in Seoul. (AFP)
PRAGUE: Avast, the company behind the leading antivirus software, has warned against attacks on home appliances connected to the Internet, calling hackers targeting home routers a major threat to consumers.
“It’s a trivial thing to do and there’s nothing the user can do to fix it, other than to throw the router away and put in a new router,” said Vincent Steckler, chief executive officer of Avast.
Ondrej Vlcek, Avast chief technology officer, said that more and more people were using Internet-enabled appliances which he described as “a total nightmare when it comes to security.”
Vulnerable appliances include TV sets, audio systems, coffee machines and toys, according to the Prague-based company, which every month registers 444 million users and prevents 3.5 billion malware attacks and 500 million visits to harmful websites.
In February, London police arrested a Briton suspected of staging a cyberattack on household routers run by Deutsche Telekom in November 2016, which knocked an estimated 1 million German households offline.
Steckler said his company had hacked into a router at a recent show in the US to demonstrate the harm such attacks can do.
Avast changed the router’s firmware, took control of a TV set and made it play a Barack Obama speech over and over.
“Even if you turn off the TV, the router turns the TV back on and the user can’t see anything other than the Obama speech,” Steckler said, adding that the hacker could then hold the TV for ransom.
“I know most people, especially Americans, care much more about their TV than they do about their data. They’d probably be much more willing to pay ransom for it,” he said.
China earlier urged Windows users to protect themselves against a new ransomware virus similar to the WannaCry bug that wreaked havoc worldwide last week.
“UIWIX” encrypts and renames files through a bug in the Windows operating system, China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center (CVERC) warned in a public announcement on Wednesday, telling users to install the latest Microsoft update.
While no UIWIX infections have yet been detected in China, the virus has spread in other countries, prompting a security alert last week from the Danish cybersecurity company Heimdal Security.
“UIWIX ransomware is picking up where the first WannaCry wave left off, without a kill switch domain and the same self-replicating abilities that enable it to spread fast,” the firm said in a statement.
Heimdal cautioned that the new bug could be more powerful than WannaCry due to the absence of a kill switch domain that could contain the virus’s distribution.
But other analysts have noted that UIWIX appears to be spreading at a much slower pace.
Global cybersecurity firm Proofpoint warned on Wednesday about another large-scale, stealthy cyberattack linked to WannaCry called Adylkuzz.
The extent of Wannacry’s impact in China remains unclear.
On Sunday, Qihoo 360, one of China’s leading suppliers of anti-virus software, said more than 29,000 institutions ranging from government offices to ATMs and hospitals had been “infected” by Wannacry, singling out universities as particularly hard-hit.
But the Education Ministry’s China Education and Research Network denied that there had been widespread damage to computer systems, saying only 66 out of 1,600 Chinese universities were affected.
Sarah Larson, a politics and cybersecurity researcher at the University of New South Wales, told AFP that China’s preemptive alert about UIWIX may indicate that WannaCry sent the government “reeling.”
Larson said China is particularly vulnerable to malicious code because the majority of the country’s computer users are reliant on pirated software.
“Until now the government has done little to encourage the use of legitimate software,” she said.
“This reluctance is largely caused by a type of cyber sovereignty directed at the dominance of US tech companies like Microsoft.”
Severine Arsene, an Internet expert at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China, said the announcement, which noted the virus was “detected abroad,” is in line with China’s current rhetoric around cybersecurity.
“China has long claimed that they are a major victim of cyberattacks every year,” Arsene said, “whereas they are essentially portrayed as a source of cyberattacks by foreign media.”
The warning is intended “to publicly show that they are taking responsibility to help maintain security and stability online.”
The government will implement on June 1 a controversial cybersecurity bill tightening restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposing new rules on online service providers.
Fifty-four international trade groups signed a letter Monday calling on China to reconsider the law, arguing that it would create significant obstacles for foreign businesses.

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